By MAT BENNETT at Search Engine Journal
Since its launch in 2005 Google Analytics has become almost unassailable in the world of website analytics, with 57% of the world’s 10,000 most popular websites using the popular site statistics suite.
Prior to the arrival of Google Analytics, the choices were largely between the inferior data of ‘server stats’ packages, lightweight 3rd party services or paying several hundred dollars a month for an enterprise level solution. Google Analytics brought powerful, accurate analytics to the masses and as site owners we lapped it up.
Tools such as Google Analytics give us the data to make smarter decisions about our websites and our businesses. Whether we are looking to increase traffic, improve conversions, conceive content ideas or do any of a myriad of other tasks, our analytics suite will often be the starting point.
However Analytics != Google Analytics. There are alternatives out there, and what’s more some of them are rather good.
Why wouldn’t you use Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is undoubtedly a strong product. The combination of in depth data, powerful analysis and creative visualisations make it a compelling product. The fact that you get all of this for free is certainly a draw as well. It is certainly my own first choice for almost all projects that I work on.
The Ubiquitous Google
However there are growing concerns by many about the all-seeing and all-knowing nature of Google. For some the idea of one company controlling so many parts of their online operation is uncomfortable. For those working in the areas of online marketing that might require head-wear of a darker shade it just isn’t an option.
One complaint that I hear frequently, particularly from new clients, is the complexity of Google Analytics. For the occasional user and those just seeking fast answers to simple questions that complexity can be off-putting. With Google Analytics version 5 likely to become compulsory early in the new year that complexity is only going to increase, which will undoubtedly be off-putting to some.
Finally there is the simple fact that you sometimes either need or want something a little different. Whilst Google Analytics certainly offers a lot, it doesn’t offer everything or suit everyone. Between them, the alternatives below offer a host of features that are not available in Google’s product. For some projects that might be just what is needed.
What alternatives are there?
Google Analytics fulfills different needs for different people, so your choice of alternatives will really be governed by what you are actually looking for from a solution. However there is little that Google Analytics offers that is truly unique, which leaves plenty of interesting alternatives to look at. I’ve picked 7 alternatives that should offer something for everyone.
Clicky prides itself on being easy to use, in fact they confidently claim to be the easiest analytics service you have ever used. Ease of use often means simplicity and Clicky certainly doesn’t provide the depth of data that an expert Google Analytics user might expect, but to Clicky and its loyal users that is one of the key advantages! Most site owners never look at most of the in depth data and the addition of live data makes Clicky appealing to many.
Despite its claimed simplicity, Clicky does offer useful click-stream data, visitor level information that Google doesn’t share through analytics. Clicky is free for up to 3,000 daily page views with paid packages starting at under $5/month.
Mixpanel is another package that headlines with real-time analytics, however it is their handling of conversion funnels that stands out for me. In particular; the ability to be able to create and analyse funnels retroactively in a way that is both quick and elegant.
Cohort analysis in Mixpanel allows you to track the retention of your product, graphing how often customers return after their initial visit – a great metric for building a stickier (and more profitable) site.
Mixpanel’s pricing structure is based on how many events you track, which might seem confusing to some. However they have a free package allowing you to track up to 25,000 data points which can be increased to 200,000 if you give them a footer link in return. For most sites that would be more than adequate to at least test this innovative offering.
FoxMetrics gives you the ability to track metrics that are specific to your business, in the form of events. Using their API you could for instance track software installs, newsletter views, media consumption or
almost any event that you can get to trigger an API call.
These events, along with more standard metrics, can be used to trigger personalization of your website based on user behaviour. Simple examples of this might be displaying a “subscribe” call to action to visitors who have read multiple pages, or a different banner to newsletter subscribers.
FoxMetrics offers a free package for up to 25,000 events and premium packages from under $10/month.
Open Web Analytics is the open source community’s answer to Google Analytics and has a look and feel that will be rather familiar to many. Rather than being a hosted solution, OWA is a downloadable program that you install on your server. Whist this means some extra work at the outset it does also mean retaining control and ownership of your site’s analytics data.
In terms of features OWA does it’s best to mimic Google Analytics and covers the key features quite well. OWA adds tracking of mouse movements and visual heatmaps to the feature set which will be of use to those with a casual interest in usability. However the key selling point of Open Web Analytics is not really it’s feature set, but in offering a self-hosted and open source alternative to Google Analytics.
Many site owners will be aware of Kissmetrics thank to the excellent blog they run, yet I suspect far fewer have tried their analytics solutions. Kissmetrics tries to make analytics more personal by tracking, and allowing you to easily visualise, the user life-cycle. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why some of your site visitors are so much more valuable than others then Kissmetrics allows you to drill down to see the behaviour of individual visitors on your site and how that has changed over time.
The other great draw of Kissmetrics is the ability to analyse conversion funnels in real time and produce clear visualisations of your site’s ability to convert visitors to whatever goals you set define.
Kissmetrics don’t offer a free service level, but their focus on actionable data should mean that the $30/month starting subscription isn’t too difficult to recoup for any commercial site.
6. Log File Analysis
Depending on your hosting set-up you might already have an alternative to Analytics installed and collecting data in the form of log files analysis. Webservers collect masses of usage data as default behaviour and many hosts include software to analyse this data for free to call their customers. Popular choices include AWStats and Webalizer.
The log file data that these packages analyse (and the way that they collect it), does differ from what you might be used to through the likes of Google Analytics, but will still give you valuable information on who is using your website and how they are using it.
One advantage of log file analysis programs is speed for the user. Because these solutions analyse data that your server is already collecting there is no overhead at all for the site visitor. Another aspect that appeals to some is that of data security. Because you are not generating additional data, and in particular not sharing that data with a third party, information about your site is kept safely on your server.
7. Website Tracking Tools
3rd party tracking tools are the precursor to modern analytics suites and share many similarities with them. In most cases you are using a embedded snippet of code to pass data to a third party service who collect, collate and present it in a meaningful way to you.
The line between what I would term “website tracking” and “analytics” is blurry at best and technically the terms are Synonymous. However there is a clear difference between the likes of Google Analytics or Kiss Metrics and Sitemeter or eXTReMe Tracking. Both groups of products deal with website visitors and their behaviour, however those that position themselves as Analytics tend to offer additional dimensions such as conversion tracking, segmentation and campaign tracking that are essential to the professional marketer.
However many site owners not only don’t want those features, but are actively put off by them. Being able to log in and see visitor numbers, most popular pages and what the last X visitors to the site did is all that is wanted and needed. For such projects website tracking tools such as eXTReMe Tracking, Sitemeter, GoStats or Statcounter are ideal solutions.
Which Analytics Package Will I Use Next?
With all these options available it does beg the question of which I will use on my next project? The answer to that will really be dependent on what that project is, but if I were a betting man I would put my money on Google Analytics. Whilst there are brilliant alternatives out there, Google Analytics does provide a solution that is ideal for most projects. It’s also the package that I (like most people) are most familiar with, so the one that I can pull actionable data from most quickly.
However there are undoubtedly times when Google’s offering is not the best analytics product for the job and in those cases I am more than happy to turn to one of the options above to understand my site visitors better.
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